By Larry Stephens
J.D. Crowe, co–producer of Modern Day Man, says, “Josh is not only a bluegrass artist, he can sing what I call good country music.” And that is an apt description of this CD. It is very good and it’s as much classic country as it is bluegrass.
Williams is a multi–instrumentalist (guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle) and has played with some of the best: Special Consensus, Rhonda Vincent’s Rage, Tony Rice, and is now back with the Rage again. He was voted IBMA guitarist of the year three consecutive years. He has the talent and he has a great baritone lead voice. He enlisted the help of a long list of excellent artists and chose some excellent songs from both sides of the country/bluegrass fence. Appearing on many of the tracks are Randy Barnes (bass), Doug Jernigan (steel), Dave Racine (drums) and Rob Ickes (Dobro). A bluegrass number that I’ve loved from the first time I heard it is “Always Have, Always Will,” composed by Chris Stapleton and Brandon Rickman from Rickman’s 2010 Young Man, Old Soul CD. Williams does it justice here capturing the same angst and pathos of the original. Keeping up the angst and pathos, he breaks you heart with that great Gene Watson song,“[Across] The Great Divide” (Randy Travis/John Lindley), another one on my iPhone music collection.
With a nod to Crowe, he includes two Keith Whitley numbers from Somewhere Between (1982) when Whitley was with Crowe: “Girl From the Canyon” and Tom T Hall’s “Another Town,” both featuring Sierra Hull on mandolin and John Bowman on vocals. “Another Town” screams along with a strong bluegrass feel despite the electric guitar of Kelly Back playing against the banjo of Jason McKendree.
Daryl Mosley’s “Mordecai,” the story of an itinerant Jewish trader in the mountains, provides a link to the last cuts. They are a testimony to the well documented problems with addiction and now recovery in Williams’ life. “Prodigal Son” is a heartbreaker about a young man who asks someone (who turns out to be the warden) to write a letter of lies to his parents back in Kentucky just before he’s put to death. Another good bluegrass song about misery and death. “God’s Plan” was co–written by Harley Allen, another troubled life that ended too soon, and has Aubrey Haynie on fiddle. He ends with the heart–touching “Sweet Little Boy” about a young man who nearly dies while on booze and drugs while his mother laments his life. It’s just Williams and his guitar, a fitting way to close out.
Williams walks along the beam dividing bluegrass and country, turning in a great performance that a lot of people are going to love.